NFL Preseason: Top performers from the first week

A number of players made their mark in the first week of the NFL preseason. Some, though, stood out more than others. Here are the big winners from the opening week.

The 2019 NFL preseason is finally in full swing. This past weekend was filled with football, as all 32 teams have now taken the field this summer. Last weekend was the first chance for fans to see their teams suit up and get a glimpse of what the 2019 season may have in store.

The majority of the first preseason games feature players looking to earn roster spots. Starters usually rest, and rookies who are projected as key players may see a drive or two. But those who have to fight for their place see significant playing time and try to make the most of it.

From undrafted players to promising prospects, anyone can make a name for themselves early on. Granted, the first preseason game means absolutely nothing, but seeing all the potential can make fans giddy with excitement.

Yeah, I said giddy – get over it.

They’ll need a big week heading into the second game, but here are our winners from the first week of preseason football.

Buffalo Bills RB Devin Singletary

The Buffalo Bills might have a crowded backfield, but they should have a plan in place for Devin Singletary. The third-round pick saw his first NFL action against the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday night and did not disappoint. Singletary rushed for a team-high 27 yards and while also making three catches for 21 yards.

“Overall, both in the run and the pass game I thought he did a good job,” Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott said after the game. “Some of the things you look for is that it’s not too big for some of these young guys and he looked into the game and focused.”

Singletary is far from a big back, but his power was on full display when he shed a pair of Colts’ defenders to pick up a first down in the red zone. LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore are perhaps the team’s top backs, but they’re not the future of the organization. Maybe Singletary is, as he displayed balance in both run game and through the air. Expect his role to grow as the preseason continues.

Cleveland Browns LB Mack Wilson

If you were one of the people who thought Mack Wilson wasn’t a first-round talent, you might be right. If you thought he was a day three selection, please exit the room now. The only difference between Wilson’s success in practice and Thursday night was he got to do it live against another team.

Wilson collected a pair of interceptions against the Washington Redskins, returning his first 40 yards for a touchdown. He would finish the night with three open-field tackles as well. Early in camp, the linebacker has excelled in coverage, an area in which he shined during his time with the Crimson Tide.

“He continues to get better,” Brown coach Freddie Kitchens said. “It’s kind of one of those things where he’s keeping his head down. It wasn’t going good for him early in camp, but he kept his head down and he kept working one day at a time and one rep at a time, and before you know it, he starts making plays.”

Don’t expect him to be a starter early, but the Browns have a potential franchise player on their hands. Again, who let him fall to John Dorsey in the fifth-round?

New England Patriots WR Jakobi Meyers

What a surprise, New England has another potential undrafted star. People wonder why Bill Belichick is considered one of football’s greatest minds, and the answer is simple – he finds diamonds in the rough. This year’s model comes in the form of Jakobi Meyers.
The former quarterback turned wideout went undrafted out of North Carolina State last April. He found himself a home in Foxborough with the team needing help at wide receiver. It’s only a week into the preseason, but I expect him to be on the active roster in September.

Meyers finished with six receptions for 69 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns on the way to a Patriots victory. Lining up in multiple positions, no one could stop the former Wolf Pack receiver from getting open and making plays.

Again, why do we let Emperor Belichick continue to find players he can transform to the dark side of the Patriots’ dynasty. Expect Meyers to begin seeing his role expand quickly.

New York Giants CB Corey Ballentine

The fact that Corey Ballentine was even playing last night is a story amongst itself. Following being drafted, the sixth-round pick and his college teammate, Dwane Simmons, were shot as they were leaving a party in Topeka, Kan. Simmons was killed while Ballentine suffered a wound to the gluteal muscle.

In his first professional game, Ballentine made the NFL remember his name as a player, not a victim. During the third quarter against the New York Jets, he would make an acrobatic interception against Davis Webb, giving the ball right back to the Giants.

A small school product, it’s no wonder why Ballentine fell deep into day three of April’s draft. The Giants could have found a standout defender for James Bettcher’s defense in coverage with a late-round pick. And while Daniel Jones was superb, Ballentine’s comeback has to be the best story of the evening.

Seattle Seahawks QB Paxton Lynch

Remember the name Paxton Lynch? You know, the quarterback John Elway drafted to be the future but was abysmal in two seasons with the Broncos? Believe it or not, he’s on an NFL roster heading into the season.

And believe it or not, Lynch got a chance to show Denver that they might have given up on him too soon…sort of.

The Seattle Seahawks quarterback finished Thursday night going 11 of 15 for 109 yards and rushed for 38 yards on the ground. He would also score a pair of touchdowns, one on a 6-yard pass to Jazz Ferguson and another on a 9-yard run in the fourth quarter.

The reality is that Lynch will not be a starter in Seattle so long as Russell Wilson is healthy. He could, however, beat out Geno Smith for the team’s backup job. Yes, the former 2016 bust found success against third-team defenders, but he looked much more competent Thursday night than he ever did in Denver. You have to give him credit there.

Tennessee Titans QB Logan Woodside

The Alliance of American Football was expected to be the alternative route for players who just weren’t ready for the NFL. The league lasted eight weeks, but a total of 61 players were signed to NFL rosters following the suspension. Thanks to his success with the San Antonio Commanders, Logan Woodside was given a second chance with the Tennessee Titans.

The AAF as a business failed, but it certainly succeeded with Woodside’s development. Playing the entire second half, the former Toledo standout went 15 of 20 for 138 yards threw a pair of touchdowns.

“I thought he acted like a quarterback and had a lot of fun out there, a lot of energy,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “It’s great to see those guys get in the game and take control of the huddle and throw the ball down the field.

“… (He) made good decisions about getting down and taking care of himself and the football.”

Woodside will likely be competing with Ryan Tannehill for the second-string position behind Marcus Mariota. Tannehill shined with his new team as well, going 12 of 16 for 130 yards and two touchdowns. If Woodside continues to grow, he might not be on a practice squad this season. There could be multiple teams looking to sign him to an active roster.

Miami Dolphins WR Preston Williams

Undrafted rookies will need to make a big push to crack the final 53-man roster. It’s safe to say we can all agree that Preston Williams is going to be on the Dolphins active roster. Yes, one preseason game means nothing but this isn’t Williams first rodeo.

Much like Mack Wilson, Williams has been the talk of Dolphins’ training camp. And on Thursday, his catch radius allowed Josh Rosen‘s first outing in South Beach to be promising. The two connected for four times for 97 yards.

The Dolphins are going to need a No.1 receiver for the future. Kenny Stills is one option, but it’s hard to bet on DeVante Parker anymore turning it around. Rosen and Williams could be the top young QB-WR combo in football this season if they both start. And both should probably start, even if it’s a struggle at first.

Carolina Panthers RB Elijah Holyfield

Christian McCaffery will be the lead back for the Panthers this season after nearly accumulating 200 all-purpose yards. The rest of the unit could be decided throughout the preseason. If Thursday was the start of something special, pencil in Elijah Holyfield as a potentially valuable piece in Carolina’s offense.

Undrafted out of Georgia following a poor NFL combine, Holyfield wowed fans in the team’s 23-13 victory over the Chicago Bears. Leading the team with nine carries for 26 yards, the son of the famous boxer also collected two catches for 13 yards, scoring a pair of touchdowns.

Holyfield’s inadequate testing led to him being undrafted. Talent has never been a question when discussing on if he has what it takes to make it in the NFL. Through the first week of preseason play, he did enough to earn praise from coaches and potentially see his role expand moving forward.

Pittsburgh Steelers LB Devin Bush

With Ryan Shazier‘s career likely over, the Pittsburgh Steelers needed to find his replacement early in April’s draft. Trading up into the top 10, Pittsburgh selected the speedy Michigan linebacker Devin Bush to anchor the defense. It’s early, but he looks to be a tackling machine.

Bush finished his first NFL game with seven solo tackles, three assists, a near interception and pressured the backfield. Against the run, the top-10 pick shed through linemen, stuffing the running back at the line of scrimmage. There were some moments in coverage where he struggled, but rookies tend to make mistakes early.

Bush overall played strong against the run. That’s an area where the team knew they needed help. Take out a few missed opportunities against the tight ends, and it’s hard to find that many flaws in his first outing. Kevin Colbert should be feeling quite content with the move this offseason heading into another week of preseason games.

Kansas City Chiefs WR Mecole Hardman

For anyone wondering if the Kansas City Chiefs didn’t have a plan in mind during the Tyreek Hill investigation, that was answered Saturday. Drafted out of Georgia, Mecole Hardman was highly praised for his speed and agility in the open field.

And he showed it was more than just a trait he possessed against below-average cornerbacks in the SEC. Hardman finished the night with two receptions for 31 yards. On his second catch, the former Bulldog turned on the jets and went untouched 17 yards for the score.

Imagine Patrick Mahomes with now Hill, Hardman, Sammy Watkins and Travis Kelce along with one of the best offensive lines in football. Can you smell AFC Championship? You should because the addition of Hardman is just unfair.

New Orleans Saints QB Teddy Bridgewater

The New Orleans Saints will eventually have to prepare for life without Drew Brees. Don’t think of them as a team looking to trade up in next year’s draft to select one of the big-name prospects. Teddy Bridgewater is going to be the future of the offense.

Bridgewater finished Friday’s action against his former team going 14 of 19 for 134 yards and a touchdown on an 18-yard pass to tight end Dan Arnold. Locked in delivering clean passes, the old Viking looked to be in sync with his receivers despite taking a pair of sacks in the first half.

Taysom Hill saw action in the second half, but Bridgewater’s ability to command the field was on point against Mike Zimmer’s defense. Even if something were to happen with Brees, the Saints should still be considered favorites this season with a competent Bridgewater under center.

San Francisco 49ers WR Jalen Hurd

Second-round pick Deebo Samuel had a pretty solid game. Jalen Hurd, the team’s third-round selection, just had a better one. With the San Francisco 49ers looking to find multiple weapons for Jimmy Garoppolo, John Lynch decided to double down on wideouts once again.

Hurd finished Saturday’s action with three catches for 31 yards. He also scored a pair of touchdowns, one using strength to barrel the defender to the ground and the other time leaping over the defender.

The former Tennessee Volunteers running back turned Baylor wide receiver was regarded throughout the draft process as an athlete. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has stated he has a vast number of play designs that will work in Hurd’s favor. Right now, anyone can make a play and look like a future star. Few players, however, has the athletic traits that Hurd possess.

Just do us all a favor, San Francisco – stay healthy, okay?

Cole Thompson is the Lead NFL writer for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter at @MrColeThompson


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